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Learn the ropes of the legal system

2011-06-29T00:06:00Z Learn the ropes of the legal systemIndependent Record Helena Independent Record
June 29, 2011 12:06 am  • 

They’re the butt of a thousand jokes, and sometimes, it seems, rightfully so. Most of us hope we never need one, but in the course of a lifetime the services of a lawyer are almost certain to be needed by all of us.

That can be a problem in a state that’s both cash- and lawyer-poor. Many Montanans can’t afford to hire an attorney when they need one, and with just 3,000 lawyers serving our population of 1 million, demand can, for many reasons, exceed supply. There’s an age-old saying that he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client. But a lot of Montanans find themselves without counsel when the need arises to work within the legal system.

Judy Meadows, who chairs the Montana Supreme Court’s Commission on Self-Represented Litigants, believes Montanans would be well served to learn more about the law and how the legal system operates, and we agree. To that end, Meadows has organized a four-hour Montana Law Day session this Thursday at the Lewis and Clark Library, giving citizens a chance to learn more about several aspects of the system.

“People don’t understand how the law works, they don’t understand they have the right to represent themselves in court, they don’t know how to access the law,” Meadows said.

Meadows said that in 70 percent of the family law cases in Montana — divorces, parenting plans, name changes, stepparent adoptions and the like — at least one of the parties involved is not represented by an attorney. That’s unfortunate for a couple of reasons: It means people may not be getting the advice they need to make the most of their situations, and it slows the entire process down as judges and everyone else in the system takes additional time to work with people unfamiliar with how the law functions. Lack of knowledge of the law can put judges in particular in a difficult spot, as they try to balance getting the facts out while remaining neutral to all parties involved.

Thursday’s free event will include five 45-minute sessions on various aspects of the legal system, including what to expect if you’re representing yourself in court; how various courts — justice of the peace, city court, small claims court — function; how to find the right lawyer for a certain kind of case; and how to access the law, whether it’s looking up court cases, state codes or regulations or in other areas.

“It’s all so people understand the importance of their legal rights and how important it is to have a fair and independent judiciary that is separate and apart from politicizing and money,” Meadows said.

Not everyone can afford a lawyer, and not everybody wants one. But we could all stand to learn more about the law and how the legal system works. The law affects everyone every day — but until we get in trouble or want to get out of a relationship, we don’t necessarily know what all those effects can be. We applaud this effort to help all Montanans better understand how the law works.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. 4fishing
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    4fishing - July 06, 2011 7:24 am
    I believe it was said by Thomas Edison that said " Only the Innocent needs a lawyer, the criminal can lie for himself. "
  2. LeslieEss
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    LeslieEss - July 02, 2011 11:30 am
    Generally speking, behind each money-grubbing lawyer is a money-grubbing client.
  3. MichaelS
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    MichaelS - July 01, 2011 8:09 am
    america produces 112 lawyers for every engineer and then you wonder why china is stomping us right into the ground. america is rotten with corrupt, incompetent, lying attorneys that file frivilous lawsuits daily against good people and american businesses. there needs to be a hunting season on lawyers or at least a serious "weeding out". america is reaching an interesting crossroads and some should be very concerned.
  4. justme59601
    Report Abuse
    justme59601 - June 30, 2011 2:31 pm
    my favorite lawyere joke:

    The National Institutes of Health have announced that they will no longer be using rats for medical experimentation. In their place, they will use attorneys. They have given three reasons for this decision: 1. There are now more attorneys than there are rats. 2. The medical researchers don't become as emotionally attached to the attorneys as they did to the rats. 3. No matter how hard you try, there are some things that rats won't do.

  5. Curmudgeon
    Report Abuse
    Curmudgeon - June 30, 2011 12:32 pm
    A lot of would-be "wits" constantly quote, "...first thing we do, we kill all the lawyers...", without having a clue what they are talking about.

    It is from Shakespeare's "Henry VI, Part 2". The speaker is Dick the butcher. The reason for his proposal is that lawyers are the front line in defending the rights of citizens, and a system of law and order.

    I'm not a lawyer, but the son and grandson of lawyers, neither of whom died wealthy, despite PURPLE's snide and highly non-original sneer. Had to work my own way thru school.

    But both men died highly respected in the Helena and Montana communities. That's a legacy I treasure.
  6. Purple
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    Purple - June 30, 2011 8:00 am
    What self-respecting law school grad is going to hang his shingle in a state where he cannot be assured of receiving an annual paycheck in the six figure range?

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